Mac Jones

49ers Were Concerned Patriots Would Jump Them To Select Mac Jones

The 49ers became the talk of the pre-draft portion of the offseason when they engineered a trade up to the No. 3 overall pick. It was immediately clear that San Francisco was going to draft a QB with that selection, and for a time, the rumor was that the club had its eye on Alabama passer Mac Jones. Ultimately, of course, the team drafted North Dakota State signal-caller Trey Lance.

However, as Adam Schefter of ESPN.com reports, one of the reasons the Niners made the deal was because they believed the Patriots had identified Jones as their quarterback of the future and wanted to beat New England to the punch. That suggests that the 49ers did initially favor Jones — who was seen as an ideal fit for Shanahan’s scheme — and were only later persuaded to take Lance. The Niners said all along that they viewed multiple passers as legitimate candidates for the No. 3 pick, so blocking the Pats and assuring themselves of the chance to select Jones was not the only motivation for the deal, but it was certainly a perk.

As Tom E. Curran of NBC Sports Boston tweets, there may have been another benefit to the trade as it relates to New England. Even if Lance was the 49ers’ target all along, floating the possibility that they were going to nab Jones might have prompted the Pats to swing a deal for Jimmy Garoppolo.

In the end, Jones fell to the Patriots at No. 15 overall, and he will be under center for the club’s regular season opener against the Dolphins today. Meanwhile, Garoppolo is still starting for the 49ers, and Lance will operate as his backup.

That arrangement may not last long. As Jason La Canfora of CBS Sports writes, Shanahan has already installed plays for Lance, who will see the field in certain packages right away. And one source says Lance will assume more and more responsibilities as the early part of the season goes on while Garoppolo showcases his talents for teams that might be interested in trading for him prior to the November 2 deadline.

Photo courtesy of USA Today Sports Images.

Patriots To Release Cam Newton, Name Mac Jones Starting QB

Bill Belichick has made his quarterback decision, and it will lead to one of the competitors being released. Mac Jones is set to start in Week 1 for the Patriots, according to the Boston Globe’s Jim McBride. The Pats, in turn, are releasing Cam Newton.

This move will cost the team $3.5MM in dead money, though offset language will allow New England to collect up to $1.5MM if Newton signs elsewhere. The Patriots did not try to trade Newton before cutting him, according to Pro Football Talk’s Mike Florio (on Twitter).

The Patriots continued to declare Newton their starter throughout the offseason and into the preseason. Newton took first-team reps for the bulk of training camp, but a five-day period away from the team — due to a COVID-19 issue that did not involve a positive test — allowed Jones extra work. The first-round pick capitalized and has fared well in his first NFL offseason.

This decision will allow Newton to catch on elsewhere, rather than sticking as a backup. While it is unclear if the former MVP will re-emerge as a full-time NFL starter, given his struggles as a passer in recent years, the Pats will not retain him to play behind Jones. They will make this move despite re-signing Newton and guaranteeing him moderate cash this offseason. Veteran backup Brian Hoyer still resides on New England’s roster and will be in line to mentor the Alabama-developed rookie.

Newton, 32, will end up being the stopgap between Tom Brady and Jones. The longtime Panther QB1 did not initially sign with the Patriots until late June of 2020, and he ended last season with just eight touchdown passes in 15 starts. The former No. 1 overall pick tested positive for COVID-19 last year and missed a start but logged his most games since the 2017 season. After injuries cut his 2018 and ’19 seasons short, Newton showed he could stay healthy. He will now look for a third NFL employer.

Jones overtaking Newton will set up an intriguing Week 1 matchup in which Jones will face the Dolphins and previous Alabama starter (Tua Tagovailoa). The less mobile Jones took over after Tagovailoa’s severe hip injury late in the 2019 season and dominated for the national championship-winning 2020 Crimson Tide squad. Jones completed 77% of his passes and finished with a 41-to-4 touchdown pass-to-interception ratio.

Linked to the 49ers for weeks at No. 3 overall, Jones fell to 15th. The Patriots did not need to trade up to land their new starter, separating them from many teams who took first-round QBs in recent years. And Jones did enough to join Trevor Lawrence and Zach Wilson as Week 1 starters from the 2021 QB class.

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Poll: Who Will Be The Patriots Starting QB?

Considering Cam Newton‘s 2020 struggles coupled with the Patriots’ decision to invest a first-round pick in a quarterback, many assumed rookie Mac Jones would take over as New England’s starter in 2021.

Not so fast.

Following the draft, Bill Belichick came out and said Newton would remain the team’s starter until he was unseated. Belichick has stuck with that sentiment throughout the offseason and into the preseason, even if the former MVP’s hold on the starting gig has started to show some cracks.

For starters, earlier this month, we heard that Jones had narrowed the gap between himself and Newton with a strong training camp. Then, Newton was recently sidelined due to a “misunderstanding” over COVID-19 protocols. While Newton’s absence stemmed from a team-approved visit to an out-of-state doctor, NFL Network’s Mike Giardi recently tweeted that there was “a level of frustration internally” with the entire situation. In fact, one member of the organization told the reporter that Newton’s recent absence “opened a window of opportunity” for the rookie, and Belichick acknowledged earlier this week that Newton’s absence would provide Jones with a chance to show what he’s got.

Naturally, Belichick surprised a few when he went back to Newton as the starter during today’s joint practice with the Giants. As Jeff Howe of The Athletic wrote, this decision gave “off the appearance nothing has changed in the race for the No. 1 job.” So, just more confusion in regards to the starting gig.

Jones has earned glowing reviews for his consistent play during practice, while Newton has merely shown glimpses of consistency. The duo has been relatively even during their preseason contests, and their statistics only help to cloud the quarterbacks depth chart.

There are merits to starting either one of the two quarterbacks. Newton didn’t get a fair shake during his first season in New England; he got a late start to training camp, dealt with a depleted set of offensive weapons, and had a bout with COVID. On the flip side, he guided the Patriots to one of the worst passing offenses in the NFL. While there could still be some upside with Newton, the consensus opinion seems to be that his 2020 performance is more indicative of his future production than his standout campaigns with the Panthers.

The main argument in the pro-Jones camp is that he’s not Newton, but there are some other reasons to believe in the rook. While Jones certainly isn’t (and probably will never be close to) Tom Brady, the 6-foor-3, big-armed quarterback would appear to be a better fit in Belichick and Josh McDaniels‘ successful offense. Jones has also impressed with his decision making and ability to grasp the offense. On the flip side, we shouldn’t put a lot of stock in practice and preseason. Plus, Belichick traditionally buries his rookies; Jones probably wouldn’t be an exception.

While we’ll likely get our answer in the next few weeks, we’re putting the question out to you: who will be the Patriots starting QB to start the 2021 season? (In before someone jokes about Brian Hoyer or Jarrett Stidham taking the reigns). Let us know in the poll below, and share your thoughts in the comments.

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QB Notes: Patriots, Dak, Brady, Rosen

Shortly after the draft, Bill Belichick said Cam Newton was the Patriots‘ starter and Mac Jones would develop behind him. Through two-plus weeks of training camp, a competition could be brewing. The gap between Newton and Jones has narrowed, Mike Reiss of ESPN.com notes. It is not certain if Jones can mount a legitimate charge to unseat Newton for Week 1, but modern NFL history — excepting the Packers’ blueprints — points to this transition happening this season. Newton has never played a backup role as a pro, so it would be interesting to see how the Patriots would proceed if Jones beats him out. If Jones does end up winning the job, Belichick giving Newton a choice to either stay with the Patriots or be released would not surprise Reiss. New England re-signed Brian Hoyer this offseason and has Jarrett Stidham on its roster.

Here is the latest quarterback news from around the league:

  • The Cowboys are being cautious with Dak Prescott‘s injured shoulder, but good news continues to emerge on the sixth-year quarterback. After a strange update by the Cowboys’ Twitter account indicated Prescott would undergo a second MRI, Clarence Hill of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram notes that exam took place Saturday and revealed progress. Dak’s ailing shoulder is healing on schedule (Twitter link). Prescott threw before the Cowboys’ second preseason game this weekend and experienced no pain in doing so, according to NFL.com’s Ian Rapoport (video link). Prescott is likely to return to practice this week, and Rapoport notes playing in one preseason game is on the table. It does not appear, at this point, Cowboys fans should be concerned about Dak missing Week 1.
  • Kyle Shanahan said recently Josh Rosen was trending downward. The former top-10 pick, who is vying for the 49ers‘ third-string job, took a couple of steps back in recent practices, per Shanahan (via the San Francisco Chronicle’s Eric Branch). In Rosen’s preseason debut with the team, he completed 10 of 15 passes for 93 yards but threw an interception. When asked postgame about Shanahan’s critique, Rosen said he does not receive many practice reps in the first place, per Branch, who adds it is unlikely Rosen gained ground in his competition with Nate Sudfeld to make the team’s 53-man roster. Sudfeld did not play in the 49ers’ preseason opener. The 49ers keeping both, with the competition’s loser on the practice squad, is in play. But Rosen losing this battle would represent another setback in a pro career filled with them.
  • As you’ve surely heard in recent years, Tom Brady wants to play until age 45. The future first-ballot Hall of Famer recently signed a Buccaneers extension that runs through 2022, and longtime trainer Alex Guerrero said during an appearance on the Adam Schefter Podcast (via Boston.com) his client should not be expected to retire after this season. Guerrero said Brady playing beyond 2022 would not surprise. Brady has kept this door open, though the 44-year-old quarterback has not committed to playing beyond next season.

Patriots Notes: Newton, Gilmore, Hightower

Shortly after the Patriots drafted Mac Jones in the first round, head coach Bill Belichick came out and said Cam Newton would remain the team’s starter until he was unseated. While a lot of coaches might express similar sentiments with respect to their veterans and not really mean it, Ben Volin of the Boston Globe writes that he doesn’t think “that’s just lip service” from Belichick. Newton didn’t play well in 2020, but he also had a poor supporting cast and Belichick seems to be genuinely fond of him. Volin believes that “the Patriots’ quarterback job is Newton’s until he gets hurt or is clearly holding the team back.”

He adds that at a “minimum” he doesn’t think the team will want Jones to “have to deal with the pressure of playing against Tom Brady in the big return game in Week 4.” Volin highlights the week after their Week 11 Thursday night game against Atlanta as a good time to potentially make the switch. We’ve previously heard that the Patriots are going to hold a true open competition in training camp between Newton and Jones, but Volin seems to think the vet is a somewhat heavy favorite in that battle. If Jones flashes in the preseason that could change things in a hurry.

Here’s more from New England as they look to bounce back from a rough 2020:

  • Last week Stephon Gilmore confirmed he isn’t happy with his current contract, saying “I just want what I’m worth,” but also said he wouldn’t be demanding a trade. Gilmore said he hoped his camp and the team could “find common ground” and get something done, and Mike Reiss of ESPN.com has an idea of what that might look like. Rather than outright adding guaranteed millions to his existing $7MM salary for 2021, “adding easily-earned incentives to Gilmore’s contract would fall most closely in line with the Patriots’ approach” in recent years, Reiss writes. He highlights how the team added millions in incentives to Rob Gronkowski and Brady’s contracts from 2017-18 to make their compensation more in-line with their market value as a potential blueprint. Reiss thinks the Pats would be more inclined to add incentives for this season rather than do a long-term extension because of concerns about their 2022 salary cap situation, as well as Gilmore’s relatively advanced age (31 in September).
  • Gilmore might not be the only member of this Patriots defense to have contract drama coming up. Star linebacker Dont’a Hightower opted out of the 2020 season due to COVID-19, and is set to make $8.725MM with another $2MM in incentives available when he makes his return this season. Volin writes that his “hunch” is that Hightower is “worried about the Patriots asking him to take a pay cut.” Hightower turned 31 in March, and obviously hasn’t played since the 2019 season. He did make the Pro Bowl that year and has been a leader in New England for a while, but the Pats have never gotten too sentimental in the past. Gilmore is getting most of the attention, but it sounds like this could be another situation to monitor.

Kyle Shanahan Discusses Decision To Take Trey Lance Over Mac Jones

Even up until the day of the 2021 Draft, it was still uncertain which QB the 49ers would take with the No. 3 pick. Our final report on the subject indicated that the decision was down to the team’s eventual pick, Trey Lance, and Alabama’s Mac Jones, who ended up going to the Patriots at No. 15.

During a recent appearance on the “Flying Coach” podcast, 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan seemed to indicate that the team did seriously consider Jones before ultimately choosing Lance.

“I think either one would have been a good decision,” Shanahan said (h/t Yahoo’s Josh Schrock). “Like, you’re not moving up if you don’t feel good about both of those. And if it had just been one then we probably would have said no — well, we probably wouldn’t have said that because it’s still risky. But we really — either one of those players would have been a great pick, in my opinion. And the third guy with Justin [Fields], he would have been a great pick. It’s just what direction do you want to go.

“There’s so many things that go into it and you’ve got to make that decision. But I didn’t blame people at all for thinking it would be Mac Jones. Because Mac Jones deserves that. He’s that good of a player and he put it on tape for a whole year, and everyone did want to relate me to Kirk [Cousins] because that’s the only guy that I was openly going for as a free agent, so people talk about him. But Trey brought another element. And it doesn’t mean he’s better or worse. It just means he brought another element that over the course of us studying it really intrigued us, and that’s a direction I would love to go and have always wanted to go.

“But the guy has got to be able to do it all, and Trey sold us that he could and that’s why I’m excited to work with him and it’s up to us to get him to do it.”

After acquiring the No. 3 pick from the Dolphins for No. 12 and a pair of future firsts, the 49ers never really showed their hand, but it sounds like the team was sincerely exploring all of their potential options. As Shanahan noted, the 49ers seemed to value Lance’s diverse skill set, something that was especially evident during a 2019 collegiate season where the quarterback ran for 1,100 yards. For comparison’s sake, Jones had 42 rushing yards throughout his entire college career.

While Lance will eventually be under center for his new team, it sounds like the team is going to give Jimmy Garoppolo every opportunity to win the starting gig.

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49ers Notes: Julio, Jones, Draft, Hurd

The 49ers were in the mix for Julio Jones, which would have reunited the All-Pro wide receiver with his former offensive coordinator. But Kyle Shanahan‘s team is not believed to have made a firm offer for the 10-year veteran, whom the Titans ended up acquiring. All four NFC West teams discussed Jones with the Falcons, and Shanahan — after losing out on Matthew Stafford when the Rams landed him — said he would have been more willing to part with higher-end assets if he believed the Rams were a true threat to land him.

That’s actually the most frustrating thing for me,” Shanahan said during his appearance on The Ringer’s Flying Coach podcast with Sean McVay and Peter Schrager (via RamsWire). “I always say, ‘Let’s do it the right way,’ which, there’s no right way or wrong way, but you don’t want to have to risk your future to compete in one year. And that’s the hardest thing about being in our division because I know how Sean rolls. That’s very similar to me. Julio would have helped everybody, but you know what it’s doing to your organization for that year and the years to come.

That’s a really risky thing, but man, if Sean’s getting him, I’m going to risk that. I know that’s how he thinks, that’s how we all think. You’ve got to compete with your division first.”

The Rams are frequently linked to big trades, having made a few since relocating, but the team’s Robert WoodsCooper KuppDeSean JacksonTutu Atwell wideout depth chart would have made Jones quite the expensive luxury. Here is more out of San Francisco:

  • Another for the “what if?” file: the 49ers did some thorough investigating on Mac Jones. Linked to the Alabama prospect up until draft day, the 49ers reached out to Jones’ high school quarterbacks coach — Kevin Fagan (not the ex-49ers D-lineman) — according to Jeff Howe of The Athletic (subscription required). Jones and Lance became San Francisco’s final two candidates for their No. 3 overall pick, after the team traded two future first-round picks for the purposes of landing a QB at 3, but the team opted to go with the North Dakota State product.
  • The 49ers are eyeing a slot role for Jalen Hurd, if the former third-round pick can make it to the regular season — something the 2019 draftee has yet to do. As a bigger slot cog, at 230 pounds, Hurd sharing some tight end responsibilities in Shanahan’s scheme may well be on tap, according to The Athletic’s Matt Barrows and David Lombardi. Hurd and former seventh-round pick Jauan Jennings are candidates for this hybrid position. This would be a way for the 49ers not to carry four true tight ends. A former running back at Tennessee who later transferred to Baylor and played wide receiver, Hurd missed his entire rookie season with a back injury and suffered an ACL tear last summer. Jennings, a Hurd teammate at Tennessee before the latter’s transfer, also has yet to play an NFL snap.
  • Although Daniel Brunskill started all 16 games at right guard last season, second-round pick Aaron Banks is expected to take over as the Niners’ first-stringer there this season.

Patriots Sign No. 15 Pick Mac Jones

They’re starting to go quickly now. Just one day after Trevor Lawrence became the latest of the unsigned rookie first-round picks to ink his deal, Mac Jones is joining him.

The former Alabama quarterback has signed his rookie contract with the Patriots, a source told Field Yates of ESPN.com (Twitter link). New England, of course, took Jones 15th overall in the 2021 draft. For weeks leading up to the draft there were persistent rumors that the 49ers would take Jones at three, but obviously those turned out not to be true.

Instead Jones endured a bit of a slip, falling to the middle of the first-round where Bill Belichick was waiting to nab him. After a season where he put up gaudy numbers under Nick Saban, Jones is getting his first taste of pro ball with another legendary coach in Belichick.

His four-year pact, which comes with a team option for a fifth-year, is worth $15.6MM. All that money is guaranteed, and he’ll get a signing bonus of around $8.7MM. Now that his contract is settled, he can focus all his attention on the upcoming quarterback competition.

Jones is expected to face off against Cam Newton in what appears to be a truly open battle in training camp to be the team’s Week 1 starter. Jones took over for an injured Tua Tagovailoa down the stretch in 2019, and became Alabama’s full-time starter in 2020.

Although the starter for only one year, he sure made his mark. Jones threw for 41 touchdowns and only four interceptions in 14 games, averaging a ridiculous 11.2 yards per attempt and coming in third in the Heisman voting.

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Latest On Unsigned First-Round Rookies

After the Falcons inked first-round tight end Kyle Pitts to his rookie deal earlier today, there are eight first-round rookies who remain unsigned:

1) Jacksonville Jaguars: Trevor Lawrence, QB (Clemson)
2) New York Jets: Zach Wilson, QB (BYU)
3) San Francisco 49ers (from Texans via Dolphins): Trey Lance, QB (North Dakota State)
13) Los Angeles Chargers: Rashawn Slater, OT (Northwestern)
14) New York Jets (from Vikings): Alijah Vera-Tucker, OL (USC)
15) New England Patriots: Mac Jones, QB (Alabama)
25) Jacksonville Jaguars (from Rams): Travis Etienne, RB (Clemson)
26) Cleveland Browns: Greg Newsome II, CB (Northwestern)

This isn’t a huge cause for concern, as first-round contracts are pretty standard and by-the-book. However, ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler has an explanation for why at least a handful of these players still haven’t put pen to paper. According to the reporter (via Twitter), there are still some “wrinkles to work out” for the notable quarterback deals. This sentiment would presumably apply to each of the top-three picks, and it could even be referring to Patriots first-round quarterback Mac Jones.

There’s a number of minor details that agents could be pushing for, including signing bonus terms or any other contract language that goes beyond the standard, boilerplate options. On the other side, teams could be pushing for some type of offset language, meaning the organization would get some financial flexibility if the player for some reason doesn’t finish their rookie contract with the team.

When it comes to the quarterbacks, most of the agents are probably waiting to see how Lawrence’s deal unfolds in Jacksonville. Alternatively, if Bill Belichick and the Patriots (somehow) give in to any demands from Jones camp, you can bet the top-three QBs would argue for similar benefits. While there are a number of reasons why the other, non-QB players have yet to sign, one could guess that the two offensive lineman may be pushing for similar terms (Vera-Tucker could also simply be waiting for his teammate to sign their contract). Etienne is in a unique position as one of only two first-round running backs (or, like Vera-Tucker, he could be waiting for his teammate), while Newsome recently fired his agent.

The teams and the players will want the contracts settled prior to training camp in late-July, but that still leaves a few weeks for negotiating.

Ten First-Round Picks Remain Unsigned

This year, NFL teams have been quick to tackle their rookie paperwork. Still, there are a decent number of unsigned draft picks remaining, including ten of this year’s first-rounders: 

In a sense, this is a sign that things are back to normal in football following the pandemic. For example, by June 12th of 2019, 22 first-round picks had put pen to paper, with 222 rookies inked on the whole. However, around this time last year, there were just two first-round picks officially in the fold – Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and Panthers defensive lineman Derrick Brown.

Offset language and similar minutia could be holding these ten deals up, but there’s no reason to panic. In all likelihood, these rookie contracts will be squared away before the start of training camp this summer.

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